“The proper work of the mind is the exercise of choice, refusal, yearning, repulsion, preparation, purpose, and assent. What then can pollute and clog the mind’s proper functioning? Nothing but its own corrupt decisions”
— Epictetus, Discources, 4.11.6-7
If you asked me which one skill you should practice every day that would have the most significant effect in your life, I would say there’s no such thing… because there are two.
Two very fundamental skills any person would reap exponential benefits from if practiced and studied are problem solving and decision making. Duh, everyone can do it, right? Well, why doesn’t everyone do them well? Their application is ubiquitous and if one masters these two skills, there should be no reason why they can’t master every other domain in their life. The truth is, we don’t master all the domains in our life. I don’t always make the best decisions when it comes to my health (why did I decide to eat that caramel molten cake last night after all the shit I ate during the holiday season!?).
Of course, there are a lot of subset skills associated with problem solving and decision making. Both skills are also so broad and have an amount of depth that they are studied extensively by leaders. They require more than a lifetime of knowledge to truly master.
This is why studying how others who have lived before us allows us to benefit from a wealth of templates in how they have solved problems and made tough yet impactful decisions. The same thought goes along with studying conflicts in the world that have happened and those that are happening.
The seven functions of the mind in Epictetus’ quote above are the pinnacle of problem solving and decision making. Decision making encompasses Choice, Refusal, and Preparation. You could even argue that Purpose is a decision. With each decision comes a problem set.
Choice in action and thought seem like the easiest thing to manage, and sometimes it might feel like it is as well, especially since we often do and think thinks automatically; but it is in my opinion the most challenging. Assuming you desire to do and think “what is right”, you first and foremost must define for yourself what “right” is (the problem to be solved). There is both fortune and misfortune that how we define right by default is familial and societal. I use societal loosely because the hierarchy of where we derive our moral compass tends to be based on proximal exposure (ie friends, then other people we spend the most time with, then the immediate culture of the society we live in in general).
As we get older, experience more of the world beyond our immediate circles and culture, and develop more refined critical thinking skills, we start to ascend beyond our default moral compass into a more personal and customized one. One that we truly believe will allow us to make choices that we can create the most win-win scenarios for everyone involved to the max extent possible.
Refusal is another function that seems deceivingly easy since it comes natural when we use our personal sensibilities as a filter for what to refuse. The problem to be solved comes in knowing how to refuse things that harm you, distract you, or simply just waste your time and energy.
Critical Thinking is my filter of choice when it comes to deciding what sort of information to refuse in order to improve the quality of my thought. I also rely on the sciences as a tool to help me better navitgate my world. After all, science exists to disprove things (ie refuse premises and arrive to a more accurate representation of the truth). Once you decide on which tools to filter out what is not important to you so that you can focus on what is, you free up so much time and energy for future decisions and problems to be solved. You start to do them with precision.
Preparation is a function that more often than not is decided on. Preparation and planning tend to be the foundation of good decisions and solving problems effectively. I’ll go into a more in depth consideration on the subject in a future post to include some techniques I use in my own prep and planning.
Purpose is a function of the mind that can only be utilized properly when one understands their place in the world, what they stand for, what they choose to spend their time and energy on. That all starts with a daily dose of reflection, heavy sessions of introspection, and an examination of your life in order to develop a perspective that will allow you to create or discover purpose.
Yearning, Repulsion, and Assent follow after making the decisions above. A Yearning to become better and to constantly grow to better serve your purpose will come when you decide on a purpose. A Repulsion for unimportant things, distractions, things that won’t help your purpose or things that make you unhappy will come when you make a habit of consistently identifying the things you need to filter out. Assent toward things that help you will come easy when you make a string of decisions that allow you to better recognize them.
Practice and study problem solving and decision making, bring clarity to the functions of your mind, and you will always win.
Decide to engage. Let me know what you think below or on the challaxeur fb page.